Summary and book reviews of The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

The Zone of Interest

by Martin Amis

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis X
The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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Book Summary

Powered by both wit and compassion, and in characteristically vivid prose, Martin Amis's unforgettable new novel excavates the depths and contradictions of the human soul.

Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favorite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn't show you your reflection. It showed you your soul - it showed you who you really were.

The wizard couldn't look at it without turning away. The king couldn't look at it. The courtiers couldn't look at it. A chestful of treasure was offered to anyone who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.

The Zone of Interest is a love story with a violently unromantic setting. Can love survive the mirror? Can we even meet each other's eye, after we have seen who we really are?

Powered by both wit and compassion, and in characteristically vivid prose, Martin Amis's unforgettable new novel excavates the depths and contradictions of the human soul.

3. SZMUL: Sonder?

Ihr seit achzen johr, we whisper, und ihr hott a fach.

Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn't show you your reflection. It showed you your soul—it showed you who you really were.

The wizard couldn't look at it without turning away. The king couldn't look at it. The courtiers couldn't look at it. A chestful of treasure was offered to any citizen in this peaceful land who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.

I find that the KZ is that mirror. The KZ is that mirror, but with one difference. You can't turn away.

We are of the Sonderkommando, the SK, the Special Squad, and we are the saddest men in the Lager. We are in fact the saddest men in the history of the world. And of all these very sad men I am the saddest. Which is demonstrably, even measurably true. I am by some distance the earliest number, the lowest number...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The fragmented narration is a strength. Who can look at such horror for sustained periods of time? Not the reader and certainly not the three men telling the story. The choppy switches that Amis creates between the mechanics of mass genocide and scenes of domesticity and child rearing are also highly moving. Equally the comedic interplay between characters, although jarring to read, is in fact wholly appropriate, driving home the unpalatable reality that the extermination of Jewish people carried out at Auschwitz was a crime perpetrated by complex human beings, living, laughing, loving and loathing while they worked...continued

Full Review (623 words).

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(Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Elegant and subtle. . . an intriguing, sophisticated effort to understand the daily culture of genocide.

San Francisco Chronicle
Simply put, a masterpiece. . . Profound, powerful and morally urgent. . . a benchmark for what serious literature can achieve.

NPR
It felt as though I had touched a third rail, so powerful and electric is the experience of reading [a] book that may stand for years as the triumph of his career.

Financial Times (UK)
It is a work of artistic courage, chilling comedy and incontestable moral seriousness.

The Times (UK)
Auschwitz was, in the most essential sense, ‘unspeakable’. It’s thus something only creative writing can speak about. If you’re Amis, that is. . . . The most daring novelist of our time.

The Mail on Sunday (UK)
The novel poses the question that will forever haunt the 20th century: how did the most cultivated nation the Earth had ever seen give way to such infamy, ‘such wild disgrace’?

The Sunday Express (UK)
Heartbreaking. . . He writes superbly but with an unusual modesty. . . He lets his story speak for itself and the result is the best Amis novel in two decades.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis... is an astoundingly bleak love story... Amis took on the Holocaust obliquely in Time's Arrow. Here he goes at it straight, and the result is devastating.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Brawny and urgent, it's unmistakably Amis, though without the gimmickry of Time's Arrow (1991).

Booklist
Starred Review. An audaciously satiric and brilliantly realized tale about personal angst and mass psychosis, and the immolation of self and soul.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A haunting indictment ofthe people who willingly bought the party line of racial purity and ethnic cleansing, this novel is as audacious as it is chilling. Essential reading.

The Guardian (UK)
The best thing [Amis] has written since London Fields. The book’s postwar coda is enormously moving, the sections describing the ‘silent boys’ of Chelmno almost unreadably sad, the figure of Szmul brilliantly rendered—at once admirable and horrifying in his desperate drive to survive. . . . This is a novel that will endure.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Martin Amis – Bad Boy of English Letters?

The road to publication for Martin Amis' latest novel, The Zone of Interest, has been less smooth than might be imagined, given that Amis is one of the stars of the British literary firmament. The New York Times reported that in France and Germany, Amis' longtime publishers rejected it on the grounds, in France, that its humor is puzzling and, in Germany, that it would be difficult to market.

Given that The Zone of Interest takes an unflinching look at the mechanics of death and body disposal at Auschwitz, and that Amis includes a love story and strong elements of gallows humor within the novel, perhaps those publishers have a point. But Amis, who describes himself as "surprised and disappointed," is unlikely to be too perturbed and may ...

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